The team has already commented on concerning data showing the serious impact on people's health, including fatalities, of virtual GP consultations, as reported by the BMJ. The data involved were collected between 2020-23, the period at which online and phone appointments were at their peak, originally instigated to cope with Covid but continuing it seems indefinitely.
But evidence accessed from reports by the Medical Defence Union, which indemnifies its members in clinical negligence claims, of patient harm from missed or delayed diagnosis appears to have clearly existed for more than a decade before 2020, when very few GPs offered remote consultations and general practices were not as overstretched as they now are.
The figures appear to highlight serious incompetency by some GPs and particularly their inability to recognise what should clearly be red-flag symptoms. Cancer and sepsis are at the top of the list, but the reports also list serious delays in diagnosing non-malignant conditions.
I recently settled a tragic claim on behalf of an 8-year-old boy, who was left paraplegic following spinal surgery for a cyst that should have been diagnosed earlier. If it had been, he would likely have had surgery much earlier and would not have suffered such life-changing injury.
The settlement of £19m was against two GPs and the sum shows just how much care and support the boy needs to live any kind of life now and in the future.
The boy's parents repeatedly took their son to their GP surgery for help from the age of 20 months, as he was clearly demonstrating severe problems with his gait and general health.
Not one but two GPs dismissed the parents' concerns, putting them down to general childhood illnesses and parental anxiety and failed to refer him for immediate assessment by a paediatrician.
When the boy was finally admitted to A&E at St Peter's Hospital in Chertsey before being transferred to St George's University Hospital in London for emergency surgery, the delays had been too long, the cyst was too dominant, and he suffered catastrophic spinal damage following the delayed surgery.
Expert paediatricians instructed for the claim agreed that if any referral had been made after a GP visit, the boy would have been seen the same day or the next day and he would have had surgery in time to prevent any significant long-term injury.
As it is, the boy will never be able to live independently and will need life-long care.
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